Dedication of Reconfiguration Project

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Remarks by the Library Director, Martin Runkle

It’s great that so many of you are here this afternoon to celebrate the near completion of Phase I of the Regenstein Reconfiguration Project. And I am very glad that the weather cleared up. It didn’t look very promising this morning.

For those who are not familiar with the Regenstein’s history, I’d like to share just a little bit of it with you. The seed for the Regenstein Library was planted way back in 1932, when a monumental study of the University libraries contained a recommendation for two central library buildings, one for the natural sciences, and the other for social sciences and the humanities. The Crerar Library, which is the central library for science, medicine and technology, opened in 1984. 52 years after the original recommendation. The vision of a central library for social sciences and the humanities was realized after only 38 years, when the Regenstein Library opened in September 1970. Clearly, the University does not rush head-long into things and does not act on recommendations without a reasonable period of reflection and deliberation.

When the University made the decision to build what was to become the Regenstein Library, they selected the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, with Walter Netsch as the principal architect. Mr. Netsch and his wife, Dawn Clark Netsch, are with us this evening. The late Herman Fussler was the Director of the Library and the mastermind of the functional design. Mrs. Florence Miller was instrumental in securing the funding for architectural studies, and a year later, in 1965, the Joseph and Helen Regenstein Foundation gave a ten million dollar gift to build the new library in memory of the late Joseph Regenstein, Sr. I’m pleased that Betty Hartman and Tom Staszak from the Foundation are also here this evening. With an additional 3.4 million dollars of federal funds, the way was clear for a truly grand library, which officially opened 29 years ago this month.

In 1987, I first mentioned to Hanna Gray that we had to begin planning to accommodate the growing collections. She was not delighted to hear this. But, not being one to dodge tough issues, she urged me on.

The projected 25 years of growth space for the collections turned out to be right on target. We had to address the impending problem of space for the collections, and also had to make some physical changes to accommodate a changing environment mainly, developments in information technology and its effects on patterns of use. We also had to try to foresee the changes it would bring in the future. Speaking of information technology, I am reminded of the adage that if you’re heading in the wrong direction, technology will get you there faster. On the other hand, it has also been said that even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.

In spite of uncertainties about the future, we had to move forward. Regenstein is a very large and complex building. In terms of size it is among the five largest university library buildings in North America. And to many people who use it, or have used it, it is almost a sacred place. We decided that any major changes we made had to be in the context of a master plan for the whole building.

In 1992, we began planning in earnest, encouraged by a grant of 2.61 million dollars over five years from the Regenstein Foundation to partially support overall planning, as well as implementation of changes on the first floor. We engaged the architectural firm of Shepley, Bullfinch, Richardson and Abbot to help us create a four phase master plan, which was completed in August 1996. The University administration and a host of other people reviewed the master plan, and, with the endorsement and shepherding of Provost Geof Stone and Chief Financial Officer Patti Woodworth, Phase I was approved, at a cost of 14.4 million dollars. The firm of Ross Barney + Jankowski was selected for the design and development phase.

Phase I has four components. The original planners of Regenstein anticipated the need for additional shelving space in the future by building the foundation and the basement floor strong enough to hold compact shelving. Because compact shelving holds twice as many books as regular shelving, it weighs twice as much. As you’ll see on the tour this evening, we are filling the basement with compact shelving. When it is completed, Regenstein will have a net added capacity of 1.2 million volumes, providing growth space for about 12 years. This option for additional shelving allows us to keep the collections under one roof, which is a great advantage. The second component of Phase I was to move the card catalog off the first floor, open the floor up to reader workspace, and move the Reference Department from the side to the center of the floor. As a separate project the Provost had previously provided 2.1 million dollars to convert the old catalog cards to electronic form. That project is just being completed. The card catalog has been moved off to the sides and will be moved to another floor in the spring. The third component of the project was the bringing together at the main entrance the reader services departments of circulation, reserve, interlibrary-loan, and the privileges office, which were previously dispersed. And the fourth component was the addition of staff offices on the first floor of Special Collections so that this staff would be more readily available to patrons.

The first floor is now almost completed, but other work, including the compact shelving, will not be completed until the end of the autumn quarter. The construction has been accompanied by lots of dust and debris, noise, frequent false fire alarms, power outages, and interruptions of heating and cooling, but otherwise it has gone smoothly. Faculty, students, and library staff have been extremely patient, and for the most part have maintained their composure.

In a few minutes, you’ll be invited inside for tours of the renewed facilities, but first, I’d like to close with a statement about Regenstein made by one of our faculty members, James M. Redfield, in a book he published in 1975. "Probably no environment better adapted to the activity of scholarship has ever been created. In this library much that had been impossible becomes possible, and much that had been difficult becomes easy."
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